The world is awash in trends. We even have symbols to announce them. All industries have trends, including publishing. If you want to make a living as a writer, you need to know the marketplace. But if you’re writing your stories only toward trends, your backlist may suffer.
Title image: Trending hashtags, Twitter tags, buzz words and personalities. How many of these will be relevant tomorrow? Next week? Next year?
Keep in mind that after your forthcoming book, your backlist is your most valuable asset. You want the stories you wrote under former publishing conditions to remain relevant in current publishing conditions.
How to keep your backlist fresh?
Your Backlist Tip #1: Choose Topics Wisely
Choose solid topics while paying attentions to trends.
I wrote And Heaven Too 30 years ago. It’s a historical romance set in 17th-century England. Warner Books was the original publisher. The story met the conditions of the publishing trends of the time.
This story is receiving renewed attention. Why? Because the central plot point involves a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi. I chose this painter because she was among the women artists I had seen in a presentation at Duke University. These were artists who had not made it into the canon of Western (nearly 100% male) art history.
I chose Gentileschi all those years ago because her work fascinated me. And a large measure of that fascination was her undeserved obscurity. But it was the quality of her work that gave me the confidence to arrange an entire plot around one of her paintings. In other words, I was engaging with the topic of an under-appreciated woman artist. And finding a way to appreciate her in my own way.
I didn’t know I would have to wait 30 years for her work to have its first major solo exhibition. But now it does. At the National Gallery in London, no less. And thus my story has renewed traction.
Your Backlist Tip #2: Read Broadly
Read. Read. And read some more.
The only way to choose topics is by reading. Way outside your chosen genre.
For many years I’ve read the weekly Science. It is the major publication of the American Association of the Advancement of Science. I subscribe because many of their articles deal with neuroscience and related topics. As a linguist, I like keeping up with brain studies, evolutionary biology and the like. In other words, I do not subscribe in order to get romance plot ideas.
However, I have taken 3 plot ideas straight out of articles I’ve read in Science. And guess what? One relates to cancer research and the other two are climate change related. (I call Science the scariest magazine on the planet. They’ve been warning of climate catastrophe for decades.)
The Blue Hour (cancer research) first appeared in 1998, The Crimson Hour (red tides/oceanography) in 2004, and The Emerald Hour in 2011 (destruction of rubber tree forests). My editor is currently working on reissuing all three books because their topics are still fresh. Even more so now than when they first came out.
All three are reincarnation romances. So they spoke to a trend at the time I wrote them. But I also chose good topics that would last.
Your Backlist Tip #3: Read Deeply
Read. Read. And read some more.
Of course you have to keep an eye on the bestsellers. But I recommend reading deeply, way inside your chosen genre. I call it “listening to the alt end of the radio dial.”
The fringe is where you’ll find the future trends. That’s where I found three up-and-comers when I began my Forest Breeze Trilogy in 2012. I fashioned Tied Up around BDSM, Captured about Motorcycle Clubs, and Knocked Out around Mixed Martial Arts. These once-hot trends aren’t necessarily trendy any more.
But I gave myself an insurance policy by setting the stories in Vietnam. In 2012 I lived in Saigon for 6 months and absolutely knew that it was a beautiful, untapped landscape for romance.
Asia is where it’s at right now, with K-Pop and K-Drama all the rage. I’m sitting pretty when Vietnam pops. Readers who come to the series now don’t tend to comment on the once-trendy themes. Rather, they say things like, “You make me want to visit Vietnam.”
Your Backlist Tip #4: Make Your Own Luck
I also first found shapeshifter stories on the “alt end of the dial.” They’re more mainstream now.
I wrote the prequel to my shapeshifter trilogy, The Alpha’s Edge, in 2015. Although I’m writing romance and not cli fi (climate fiction), my various weres (werewolves, werepanthers, and werebears) are all working to reverse the climate change caused by humans. Clearly, I have a strong interest in the topic. And it’s still a great topic.
But, just by chance, I hit on an equally good topic for the long run: immunity. In Money for Nothing, I told the origin story for the werepanthers in the Everglades of Florida. And added the detail that their species has thrived over the centuries because they are immune from human diseases like yellow fever, small pox, and measles.
I’ve begun the third book in the trilogy, Wealth Whispers. It’s clear to me that all my weres are also immune from all strains of the corona virus. They will therefore be able to inhabit and comment on the post-Covid world in a way that humans can’t.
The post-pandemic world is not a trend. It’s the new reality.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen